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Idaho National Guard activated to help prisons, clinics overburdened by COVID-19

Seventy-five guardsmen will assist Primary Health and the Idaho Department of Correction, which are struggling with staffing shortages caused by employees out sick.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Monday morning that he will again activate the National Guard to assist in the state's fight against COVID-19 as cases continue to soar. 

According to Little, 75 guardsmen will assist Primary Health and the Idaho Department of Correction, both of which are grappling with staffing shortages and worker absences due to COVID-19.

This is the fourth time that the Idaho National Guard has been activated in response to the pandemic.

"We are always ready, always there and we have certainly gotten good at the COVID response," said Lt. Col. Christopher Borders, public affairs officer for the Idaho National Guard.

According to Lt. Col. Borders, the 31-day order will send 30 guardsmen to Primary Health, 30 to the Idaho Department of Correction, and a dozen will be administering command and control and overseeing mission briefs. 

Both Primary Health and the Idaho Department of Correction are grappling with staffing shortages and worker absences due to COVID-19.

"Today we have four clinics closed, this last week we had seven clinics close, we hope that with the national guard we can get back to normal hours we can open our clinics, and now we can begin to see more patients," said David Peterman, Primary Health Medical Group CEO.

Peterman said the hope is that the additional staff with help primary care employees catch up on COVID testing and administering vaccines, by assisting with administrative tasks. 

According to Josh Tewalt, the Director of Idaho Department of Correction, support from guardsmen will take place at three institutions in the South Boise complex, by supporting security staff. They will help pass out meals,  helping with tier checks, and counts. 

"As of this morning, I have 201 staff in the department of corrections who are either out with COVID or who are out because of a direct exposure to someone else who tested positive," Tewalt said. 

The governor said that 503 additional personnel have been secured through a state contract to help out at Idaho hospitals, which are still struggling to contain the surge.

“I am proud of our men and women of the Idaho National Guard who have stepped up time and again to help our state and communities get through an unprecedented, challenging time. The strain on healthcare, schools, business, and government from the spread of COVID-19 is a reminder that we are not out of the pandemic, and we need to be vigilant about keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy,” Little said.

Crisis standards of care were enacted for the second time in southwest Idaho last week due to shortages of both blood and staff.

Check back for updates.

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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